President Obama has been criticized for being antagonistic to or wrong for Israel. Some go so far as to claim that he is the worst president for Israel in American history. Really?
History tells us otherwise. Many presidents saw Israel as a burden and acted accordingly. Truman may have recognized Israel’s existence six minutes after its birth, but he also embargoed arms throughout the lead-up to and during Israel’s War of Liberation. Eisenhower, who had doubts about whether Israel should have even been created, forced Israel to return its gains in the Sinai and Gaza in 1956 by making a variety of threats, including ending tax deductible gifts to Israel.
Ford set up a reassessment of America’s Middle East policy in 1975 because he was angry at the Israelis for refusing a proposed disengagement agreement with Egypt. Carter did broker the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, but otherwise endlessly clashed with Israel. George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state told Israel’s then-prime minister Shamir publicly that when he was ready to talk peace he should phone the White House, and later even denied Israel critical loan guarantees at the very moment refugees from the disbanding Soviet Union were arriving.
There are no similar episodes in Obama’s record. Instead, he established the closest working military and intelligence relationship with Israel in the country’s history. Facts verify this assertion: joint exercises and training, increased security assistance every year, unprecedented advanced technology transfers, doubling of funding for Israel’s missile defense system, and assistance in funding for the Iron Dome system that today intercepts rockets headed for Israel.
More facts. The Obama administration has opposed efforts to boycott or divest Israel and has backed Israel on the infamous Goldstone Report, the anti-Israel Durban Conference, the Gaza flotilla incident, and a host of anti-Israel UN initiatives, such as the Palestinian effort to gain recognition as a state. The US has voted with Israel at the UN 100% of the time under this administration, a first in modern history.
So what’s the problem? Certainly, the poor personal relationship between the Israeli and American leaders does not help. But this is not the first time that an American president found an Israeli leader frustrating, yet managed to enhance US-Israeli relations. Ronald Reagan had a number of diplomatic conflicts with Israel — the peace process, the US sale of AWACS jets to Saudi Arabia, Israel’s attacks against Iraq’s nuclear reactor and the Lebanon War — yet still strengthened security ties with Israel. Like Reagan, Obama has exponentially enhanced US-Israel security cooperation. But unlike Reagan, Obama did not suspend arms transfers to Israel because of a disagreement with its leaders.
Recently, the Israeli-American discord has centered on Iran. The president and prime minister disagreed over setting a red line, after which military action would be taken. But few seemed to notice when the US and Israel quietly resolved the issue, with Netanyahu agreeing to delay action until next year at the earliest and praising the president at the UN for his efforts.
In fact – there’s that word again — Obama has supported the toughest sanctions on Iran in history, in pursuit of the goal of preventing Tehran for gaining nuclear weapons.
His statements and actions are far tougher than anything provided by President George W. Bush. Standing with then-prime minister Olmert in Jerusalem in January 2008, Bush could only offer this:
I believe it’s incumbent upon the American Presidents to solve problems diplomatically. And that’s exactly what we’re in the process of doing. I believe that pressure — economic pressure, financial sanctions — will cause the people inside of Iran to have to make a considered judgment about whether or not it makes sense for them to continue to enrich.
For Obama, opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons is part of his vehement opposition to nuclear proliferation. Even as he opposed the war in Iraq, Obama told The Chicago Tribune editorial board in 2004, “The big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures, including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point are we going to, if any, are we going to take military action?” Admitting that attacking Iran might hurt America’s image in the Arab world, he concluded:
On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran.
Obama’s policies on Iran have been working, with intensifying sanctions helping to cause accelerating economic chaos, and protests, in Iran, which is today weaker than four years ago. Tehran may have made advances toward a nuclear force, but the costs of that movement are clearer than ever, and the worldwide opposition more determined and tougher. Iran is paying a heavy price for its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and that price will grow higher. There is no argument between Israel and the US on that score.
Those critics are simply wrong. Obama has been an exceptional supporter of Israel where it counts – on the hard core security and diplomatic issues that provide assistance and protection in a very dangerous region.